Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared that he will suspend nuclear and missile tests at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site starting today.
In a statement quoted by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Mr Kim said it was no longer necessary to carry out missile tests because “nuclear weaponisation” had been achieved. “The northern nuclear test site has completed its mission,” he added.
The decision to halt missile tests, according to KCNA, is also aimed at pursuing economic growth. Mr Kim reportedly pledged to “concentrate all efforts” on developing a socialist economy.
This development seems to reduce the chances of a war that seemed very likely only a few months ago.
Today’s announcement was made possible by the start of a dialogue with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who invited a North Korean delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. This, in turn, is paving the way for the upcoming meeting between Moon and Kim on 27 April.
The end of missile and nuclear tests has also made possible a meeting between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, perhaps in May or June.
The world’s reactions
South Korea welcomed the end of tests. “North Korea’s decision is meaningful progress for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for,” the South Korean presidential office said in a statement. “It will create a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits.”
US President Donald Trump also reacted to the announcement. “North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress! Look forward to our Summit,” the US leader said on Twitter.
China too praised Kim’s decision. “The Chinese side believes that North Korea’s decision will help ameliorate the situation on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang was quoted as saying.
Likewise, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday welcomed North Korea’s decision.
Stabilise the economy
According to several experts, Kim Jong-un’s decision is motivated by the desire to end UN sanctions, which have dealt a heavy blow to the country’s economy as a result of its nuclear and missile programmes.
The North Korean economy is in fact in a shamble, especially after China decided to enforce the latest round of sanctions adopted in September. China accounts for some 90 per cent of North Korea’s aggregate trade.
The sanctions cut off coal exports, reduced illegal international business, as well as North Korean imports.
Sanctions also brought to a standstill the new economic zones Pyongyang set up following in China’s footsteps to attract foreign investment.
Malnutrition and disease are widespread among North Koreans, potentially undermining people’s loyalty to the regime’s elites.
“Kim appears to have determined that economic achievement could help him stably keep his regime and burnish his image overseas,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a senior researcher at the Industrial Bank of Korea.